The Premier League season kicked off last weekend after another summer of relentlessly spiralling transfer fees, salaries and tabloid scandals.
But for every £180,000-a-week wage demand, there are the unreported stories of clubs and footballers helping good causes. "Every club experiences the same things we do, in that their projects are not given the coverage they deserve," says Simon Taylor, head of corporate social responsibility at Chelsea FC. "But that's not why we do it."
Last month the club launched the Chelsea Foundation, an independent charity that will expand its community and charity work, which it estimates is already reaching more than 800,000 people a season. The club works on a long-term basis with two main charities - the development charity Right to Play and Help a London Child. "Instead of spending a short amount of time getting a rough idea of how we can help an organisation, we aim for an ongoing two-way dialogue," says Taylor.
Chelsea helps to raise more than £1.5m a season for charity, part of a corporate social responsibility investment of more than £5.6m a season. Given that the football club as a whole lost £47m in 2008/09, that's a significant amount.
There does seem to have been a collective realisation among top-flight clubs that they should do more charity work. Almost every Premier League club now has a charitable foundation, and all have at least one charity partner.
Chris Kershaw, communications officer for Birmingham City and manager of the club's charity projects, says there has been a marked improvement. "When I started working in football 14 years ago, clubs could be a bit of a closed shop, nervous about getting involved with charities because they didn't fully understand the issues they dealt with," he says.
But things are changing. Birmingham, for example, works with the Wasp Hills Autism Unit, whose premises are next to its training ground. "We're not just about picking the big charities," says Kershaw. "We aim to work with local causes that don't enjoy much limelight."
As well as local groups, the club has partnerships with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Steve Dourass, area fundraising manager for Macmillan, says charities that want to build relationships with clubs should take a direct approach. "If you can speak to a member of the board, someone close to the owners or even the owners themselves, and convince them to take an interest in your cause, that's a great start," he says. "If that's not realistic, try approaching the head of the commercial or corporate department."
But don't go cap in hand, he adds. "Keep in mind that it's an opportunity for the clubs, too," Dourass says. "It's a way for them to show their supporters what they are doing from a corporate social responsibility perspective. Supporters are the heartbeat of a club - if they see their club embracing a cause and working in their community, their ties with the club will be stronger. The club will only gain from being associated with a charity that cares for people in the dark times."
To encourage a more formalised approach to working with charities, in 2007 the Premier League launched Creating Chances, an initiative that supports the work clubs do for good causes. Its annual Creating Chances report, providing a rundown of clubs' charitable activities, is next published in September.
"What we're doing is hard evaluation," says Simon Morgan, head of community at the Premier League. "Not only can we measure what the league as a whole is putting into charitable projects, but we also know what is working and where we can be more effective."
Morgan say this audit shows the Premier League and its 20 clubs have invested £111.6m in charitable projects over the past three years, the equivalent to 3.7 per cent of turnover.
The league will not, however, release figures for how much individual clubs put toward charitable causes - it's up to the clubs to reveal that themselves. Arsenal, for example, can point to the near £820,000 it raised for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity last season.
But others say it's too difficult to estimate. "You can't put a value on the use of the club's resources, like the use of the stadium or the players getting involved," says Kate Bradley, charitable foundation manager at the Newcastle United Foundation, which runs community sports and education projects in the city.
"Children look up to players as their heroes, and anything they say is instantly taken on board. If Newcastle defender Steven Taylor tells them not to eat a Mars bar for breakfast, they'll listen."
PREMIER LEAGUE: WHO'S WHO IN A FANTASY CHARITABLE XI
1. Rob Green West Ham United
Climbed Kilimanjaro, raising more than £30,000 for the African Medical Research Foundation
2. Jamie Carragher Liverpool
Set up the 23 Foundation (his shirt number) to provide grants to young people on Merseyside
3. Rio Ferdinand Manchester United
Established the Live the Dream Foundation in 2008 to educate and train young people
4. Mikael Silvestre released by Arsenal
Founded Schools for Hope in 2005 to build schools in impoverished parts of the world
5. Rory Delap Stoke City
Raised more than £24,000 with cycle rides for the Donna Louise Children's Hospice Trust
6. Michael Essien Chelsea
Launched his own foundation last year to help underprivileged youth in Ghana
7. Ryan Giggs Manchester United
The Unicef UK ambassador also raised more than £100,000 for a children's hospital in Manchester
8. Shaun Wright-Phillips Manchester City
Ambassador for Education for the Children Foundation and the Prince's Trust
9. Jason Roberts Blackburn Rovers
Launched a foundation in 2007 to provide sports opportunities for youth in the UK and Grenada
10. Didier Drogba Chelsea
Last year pledged £3m to build a hospital in Ivory Coast, his home country
11. Craig Bellamy Manchester City
Invested £650,000 in his foundation, a football academy and boarding school in Sierra Leone
The Prince's Trust
Over the past 13 years the Prince's Trust Football Initiative has helped more than 15,000 young people to get back into education, find employment and develop their confidence. It works with more than 70 professional football clubs in the Premier League and across the football league, and is funded by the Premier League, the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Foundation.
"We work closely with clubs on delivering local programmes, starting with 12-week development courses that feature player appearances, healthy lifestyle workshops and stadium tours," says Paul Brown, director of marketing and communications at the Prince's Trust. "It's a great synergy because most of our young people love football, and the clubs understand that it's a very effective way to reach them."
Tom Hake went to the Prince's Trust last year, looking for help after months of fruitless job applications, and signed up for Team, its 12-week personal development programme. Part of the programme was a work placement with Manchester City, where he impressed staff so much that they offered him an internship and subsequently a paid position working in the club's community coaching department. "If you had told me two years ago that I would be working for a football club helping young people, I would never have believed it," says Hake. "It is my dream job."
Blackburn Rovers Community Trust
The Blackburn Rovers Community Trust is a charity, independent of the football club, that runs a programme of grass-roots football, education and inclusion initiatives, and awareness projects on behalf of the club.
Gill Kinloch, head of community affairs and a director of the trust, says her organisation and its ethos are a central part of what's happening in Blackburn. "We're an integrated part of the local community, and partnership work is central to that," she says. "We've established sound working relationships with local authorities and other charities that have helped us to deliver a range of extended programmes to meet the needs of local people."
The trust works with more than 20 local, national and international partner organisations every season, and has an unusual link with the charity Friends of Chernobyl's Children. It has hosted visits from this organisation since 2004, giving young people who have been severely affected by the 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine a month-long recuperative break.
However, the scope of the trust's work means putting a figure on its charitable outlay over the course of a season is extremely difficult. "I would make a conservative estimate of more than £2m," says Kinloch.
"That includes the use of facilities for community organisations and associated free-of-charge catering, long-term dedicated community space in the stadium, stadium tours, perimeter board advertising, matchday programme features, mascot appearances, a website presence, donations of kit, merchandise, match tickets and signed items, cash donations, staff time in support of charitable activities and staff fundraising efforts, use of club playing facilities, player and manager support for events, work experience placements and more."